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Read an extract of an interview with the Lithuanian President Dalia Gryubauskaite who was interviewed on domestic, foreign policy, energy projects published in Veidas magazine on 3 January

Lithuanian President believes that Lithuania’s economy will regain its footing in 2011, but she says it will be a slow process the success of which will depend on, among other things, the economic situation in some European countries that are suffering from serious financial problems. Therefore, the president advises the people to stop being passive and expecting that somebody else would do the job, she says that the people should be more active and more responsible for developing their own country.

The Prime Minister had already announced that the economic crisis was over, but when the government was asked to restore pensions to the pre-crisis level, he said that the crisis was not over yet. In your opinion, what is the real economic situation in Lithuania?

I think the darkest period is over. We should see some economic revival in 2011: The economy should grow by some 2-3 per cent. But this certainly does not mean that the budget would immediately receive additional funds, which in turn means we cannot restore the pensions to their previous level in 2011. Perhaps we could do that in 2012.

However, we should not forget that the Lithuanian economy is very small and that it depends on external factors, and, unfortunately, various things are happening outside Lithuania. I have in mind the difficulties that some European countries are going through. The state of the Lithuanian economy will depend, in part, on how well European countries manage to cope with the borrowing crisis.

This is why we can be grateful that economic recovery has started, that the forecasts look good, but we should not expect too much. We will regain our footing, but this process will be a slow one.

If the economic crisis is soon to be over, perhaps the career of Kubilius, who has been dubbed the ‘crisis prime minister,’ will be over soon, too? Do you still believe that the Kubilius-led government is doomed to be working until the end of its term?

We can joke that since the crisis is not over, Kubilius will have to keep shouldering responsibility. On a serious note, I am open to any political groups if they are united and have rational recipes on how to cope with the situation in the most rational and prompt way.

To be fair, the Kubilius-led government is doing what is necessary and what any government has to do in times of economic crisis. By the way, we can see that the Latvian and the Estonian Governments are doing similar things, but Latvians and Estonians have accepted this as something that cannot be avoided, and the Lithuanian citizens, the Lithuanian media and press, and the Lithuanian politicians have a very negative attitude toward this policy. There are many reasons why the reaction is different. For example, the Lithuanian Government did not use the crisis period to implement its sunset policy and it forgot about its plans to reform the social insurance and state governance systems.

In your opinion, what do the government and other state institutions need to do in 2011 to stabilize the economy and to make the people trust the government more?

Everything starts with a personal example. We have to do what is possible to do, and we have to do it in a transparent and public way. As for the reforms, it is necessary to reform the social insurance system; we keep talking about it, but are doing nothing. The situation of Sodra (the State Social Insurance Fund) will be difficult because of the economic downturn, the demographic situation, and growing emigration. No matter what government we have, it will be forced to resort to painful solutions to solve this problem.

And the key task – and not only for 2011 – will be to fight corruption because it is already starting to paralyze the country’s development. Lithuania is turning into a country controlled by oligarchs and the criminal world. You understand that if somebody steals some 1 million from an airline, the state loses billions because of chain reaction: tourism stops developing, foreigners do not visit the country, and because of that our hotel owners and producers suffer, and so forth. I did not think that corruption is so deep rooted in Lithuania and that the people are so used to petty corruption that they simply tolerate it.

The 2010 was even called the year of fight against corruption. Do you see any gleam of hope in this fight if a truck with contraband goods detained by the customs can be stolen from the customs territory?

The truck story was a painful slap in the face that showed us how rotten the system has become at all levels: from the bottom to the very top. There are several corruption levels: the contraband level; the local government level – through public tenders and the use of EU funds; and there is political corruption, when lobbyist laws are adopted, which can influence the country’s strategic development for a very long period of time and which can be extremely detrimental to the country’s development prospects. We can try to influence all these levels through legal acts because our legal acts are too soft for the level of corruption we have now and considering that various interest groups have a very strong influence in our country. This is why I have been initiating so many anti-corruption legal acts, such as property confiscation, higher fines, so that we could choke off corrupt practices in Lithuania.

However, legal acts alone are not enough. We need to implement them. I really hope that after we create an additional legal base, we will be able to start demanding responsibility. For now, we have been talking about that a lot, but not a single person has gone to prison for these crimes.

You have openly said that you do not trust Environment Minister Gediminas Kazlauskas. Why have you not requested to replace him with somebody else? Was it because you did not want the ruling coalition to collapse or was it because you did not see any other candidate to replace the current environment minister?

There are people who could replace him, but the prime minister should approve such a change. As we know, the government is coalitional, and the problem of replacing a minister depends on how fragile the situation of the prime minister and the coalition is. As far as the quality of work and results, the use of the EU funds, and the solving of the problems with waste dumping grounds are concerned, the Environment Ministry looks very weak, the ministry is stagnating and is not capable of doings its job.

However, you obviously support Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas, even though the majority of the Seimas doubts he should stay. Do you really understand what Lithuania’s current energy independence policy is? The tender for strategic investor for the new nuclear power plant has ended in total fiasco, there are no any attempts to develop renewable energy resources, and there are some other problems.

Lithuania does not have its own energy resources, this is why it will always depend on somebody, and therefore we can speak about a relative independence, a certain degree of independence. For example, Europe depends only about 60 per cent on Russian gas, Lithuania depends on it 100 per cent.

This government was the first in the 20 years of independence to open an electric power exchange, which was based on the NordPool (the single financial energy market for Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) example. For the first time in our history, we can procure almost half of our electric power at competitive price. This is why I am saying that this government has been doing something the lobbyists from various interest groups had not allowed the previous governments to do for the 20 years.

By disbanding LEO LT, the government has regained full control over the entire electric power sector, which is good because it is obvious that LEO LT was not even going to build a nuclear power plant, this project was nothing but an attempt to play the stock and earn billions by paying several hundreds of millions. The government has signed all the documents for the construction of the power line to Sweden, and we have guarantees that it will start operating in 2015. We are working on the plans to connect our power lines with Poland. We are planning to build a liquefied gas terminal in Klaipeda.

This government, just like the previous governments, is not paying sufficient attention to alternative energy resources. Lithuania is not sufficiently using bio fuel; if it did, the cost price of heating and electricity would have fallen by up to 40 per cent. Lithuania has a huge potential for the use of wind energy and waste recycling. This is why the government should use the pause after the situation with the tender for strategic investor for the new nuclear power plant and develop alternative energy resources in Lithuania.

Speaking about the tender for strategic investor for the new nuclear power plant, Lithuania initiated the tender when the economy in Europe was shrinking; moreover, such projects are very expensive and require long-term planning. This is why any investment from a foreign country will be calculated very carefully. The countries that have their own technologies, such as Russia, the United States, or France can do that, and this is why Russia has the Kaliningrad nuclear plant project. If Belarus builds its own nuclear power plant, it will have to borrow funds, but it remains unclear what technology it is going to use – Russian or some other. The Baltic countries or Poland do not have their own technology, nor do they have experience or capacity to build such an object. No matter how many agreements and political declarations the four countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland) sign, they would not be able to build such an energy object on their own, this is why we needed an investor. And we are here speaking not only about the money, but about the technology as well.

Do you still believe that we can build the nuclear power plant by 2018-2020?

Oh, no, let us stop talking about the terms. Let us talk about the idea that it would be beneficial for Lithuania to remain a member of the countries that use nuclear energy. We certainly should not be deceiving ourselves that we will soon have a nuclear power plant.

The economic market conditions will not change so soon, the economic crisis has triggered many very complicated processes in Europe and the world, and we should not cling to unrealistic hopes. We should do what we can do today. We will do the things we will be able to do tomorrow when tomorrow comes. I do not want to speculate about the dates because I think that Lithuania now has to invest into the electric power bridges to Sweden and Poland, into the liquefied gas terminal, into bio fuel, and into waste burning.

What exactly do you have in mind when you speak about a pragmatic attitude toward Belarus and Russia? What are the tasks and projects?

Pragmatic policy means that we need to protect Lithuania’s interests everywhere: in the EU, NATO, and when cooperating with other countries. I think that Lithuania has very big chances to realize its potential through cooperation with the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

This pragmatic approach may cost me my reputation. It would have been less risky for me to be submissive and not to think about Lithuania’s real interests, not to demand anything. For example, Lithuania was only a very formal member of NATO, it did not have practically any real defence guarantees that should be provided in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO treaty, and this was why I strongly demanded in September 2009 that such guarantees are provided to Lithuania. Many countries, including some big countries, were very displeased with the public and open expression of my opinion. In the end, we received real defence plans for the Baltic countries at the recent NATO summit. This is what pragmatism is: To have a clear opinion, to protect Lithuania’s interests not formally, but by acting and seeking real results.

As for the pragmatic policy toward Belarus or Russia, I did not have some joint projects in mind, the main thing is a general context, mutual dialogue, economic and cultural cooperation. Political cooperation will depend on some other circumstances. For example, businessmen have told me that after we signed an agreement on simplified visa regime and after I met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, it has become a little easier for them to work in Belarus. If a slightly softened political rhetoric toward our neighbours contributes to a good environment for our businesses to operate there, this is already very important because economic cooperation is important for everybody.

For example, Lithuania supports Russia’s membership in the WTO because for Lithuania this would create a more civilized base for bilateral economic relations. Or, for example, when I met with the Belarusian president, Lithuania got a possibility of obtaining information about Vladimir Uskhopchik’s interrogation regarding the 13 January (1991massacre) case after 19 years of waiting. This helped us file war crime charges, and now this case is not subject to limitations statute.

By the way, the world is moving in the same direction: Europe and the United States have softened their attitude toward Russia and some of our other neighbours. Lithuania has to use this period of thaw and find its own niche in these relations. However, this has to happen naturally, we are not going to speed up any processes on purpose.

Lithuania will preside over the OSCE in 2011 and it will focus its attention on democratization, human rights, and freedom of speech everywhere in Europe, including in the neighbouring countries.

Source: lithuaniatribune.com